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Volume 15, Issue 10 ~ March 8 - March 14, 2007

Trees You Won’t Want to Bring Home

Early death, dense shade, falling branches and pesty seeds will make you sorry

When new homeowners move in, they want instant shade. Temptation often comes by advertisements selling trees that grow roof-high in one year. Don’t be fooled, the Bay Gardener warns, and stay away from these troublesome four:

Lombardy poplar may grow tall and survive many years in Nebraska, but not here. In our hot, humid climate, they thrive for only 15 years before they start dying from cankers.

The Empress tree can grow roof-high in one year, produce shade within two years and have beautiful tall spikes of purple flowers within three years. Large fussy leaves, however, are a mess to pick up, and a large volume of dead branches — generated in eight or so years — needs to be gathered frequently. Plus, an abundance of surface roots makes growing anything beneath these trees impossible. The Empress tree will survive for 30 to 40 years, but you’ll likely be cutting it down after only 10.

Hybrid poplars can be tempting because they are cheap, grow fast and produce an abundance of shade. But you’ll pay later for your mistake. Often the shade is so dense that nothing will grow under the branches. The surface roots generate hundreds of sprouts, and the trees become susceptible to trunk cankers as they mature.

The weeping willow appeals to many homeowners because it grows fast, has a graceful weeping habit of growth and is the first tree to welcome spring with leaves. Don’t let its grace into your landscaping. Within eight to 10 years, it will begin to drop hundreds of small branches each year.

This species thrives near water and is capable of producing both deep and shallow roots. So if your sewer or water lines leak, its roots will find that leak, enter the pipes and cause major damage. The only safe place to grow weeping willow is near a pond, stream or lake far away from a home. One redeeming value of weeping willow is its therapeutic value: For a headache, skip the aspirin and chew on willow branches for relief.

The Trouble with

Sweet Gums

Q Half my 150-by-150-foot lot is wooded with oak, beech, dogwood, pine, red maple and sweetgum. Unfortunately, the gum trees outnumber all others. I have eight very large gums, and the quantity of gumballs deposited in the yard is staggering. They seem to fall year-round but especially in the fall and winter.

Is there anything that can be done short of cutting them down to lessen the amount of balls they produce?

—Bob Donaldson, Edgewater

A The answer is no. I did some work on trying to de-fruit trees, and could never duplicate work that appeared to have been effective. The only species of trees that we can chemically de-fruit is apple. The chemicals do not seem to work on other species. I have done research on both ginkgo and sweet gum. I was able to control the fruit on ginkgo only once in five years of research but was never able to effectively treat sweet gum. If you don’t want to continually harvest gumballs you have no choice other than one-cut pruning.

Ask Dr. Gouin your questions at All questions will appear in Bay Weekly. Please include your name and address.

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